A member of the newly-formed police ‘Regional Public Order Event Investigation Teams’ (RPOEIT) was spotted by activists at the anniversary commemoration of the pro-democracy Occupy protest in Admiralty on Monday, according to the AM730 newspaper.
A man was seen in front of the main stage of the event using his phone to communicate with a message group named ‘POE team’ to share information about well-known protesters and events at the commemoration.
When a pan-democracy camp figure appeared on the stage, he checked their identity on the internet. He also stood up for the ‘moment of silence’ with other protesters at 5:58 pm, the time when the first tear gas canister was fired on September 28 last year.
New teams to monitor protests
On July 1, the police formed two of these RPOEIT teams to monitor protests as they occur.
The new teams’ primary duties include “investigating offences and handling intelligence related to public events”. The teams will also work closely with uniformed police officers in the field as “Evidence Gathering Teams” to “prevent and deter offences related to public events”, according to the police force’s official newspaper Offbeat.
“When they operate in the field, each team will include an officer capturing the scene on camera,” a source told AM730, “and another officer using a loudspeaker to repeat appeals and orders from the police to the protesters, to ensure they have heard them. This will prevent the protesters from later saying in court that they did not hear them, and therefore be acquitted of the charges.”
“Last year, we in the police stations had no idea which team should be responsible for prosecuting the protesters after arresting them. From now on, the RPOEIT teams will be responsible. If any conflict happens at the scene of a protest, it will not just be the eight members of the team present, as each team can deploy 40 Police Tactical Unit officers as well,” the source added.
Another core duty of the teams is to “maintain and continue to develop the database of legal advice and court judgments related to public events”.
“They are poised to develop both tactically and strategically for the prevention and detection of offences related to public events.” Offbeat reported.
Each RPOEIT team consists of one Chief Inspector, one Detective Inspector or Senior Inspector, two Detective Sergeants and four Detective Police Constables.
Two Hong Kong Island (HKI) regional teams came into full operation under the command of the Superintendent Crime (Operations) for the Hong Kong Island region in August, and two more teams will be set up for the Kowloon region in October. The four teams will have a total of 32 officers.
Alvin Yeung, a volunteer lawyer helping Occupy protesters, told AM730 that the setting up of the new police teams was a rearrangement of their resources, and that it may not increase the power of the police, as long as they enforce the law fairly and reasonably. But he also warned, “We need to observe the situation. They [the front-line officers] may enforce the law recklessly, as they think they have been set up to deal with protesters.”
However, Yeung also said that he had never heard of any arrested Occupy protester using the defence that they “did not hear police warnings” in court.
According to Offbeat, the new teams have also been involved in training other officers. Since July, the two HKI teams have been providing regular training in public event policing to commanders and front-line officers from the Resident Police Tactical Unit Company, the Emergency Unit and four districts in the Hong Kong Island region, sharing their experience in evidence gathering.
They have also shared their knowledge and field experience with the Organized Crime and Triad Bureau, the Cyber Security and Technology Crime Bureau and other major teams.